The 'right' to die?

Monday, July 22, 2013

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Dear Editor,

Heather Crowe is not a name that rings a bell to most Jamaicans though she is well known in Canada; but her story is very relevant to Jamaica at this time.

Up until 2002 Heather, like many hard-working Canadians, worked more than 60 hours per week to earn a decent living for herself and her daughter. She worked in the hospitality industry as a waitress in a restaurant for over 40 years. She was 57 years old. Her health had usually been good, but the previous spring she noticed some lumps on her neck that didn't go away.

Even though she wasn't feeling sick, her daughter encouraged her to visit the doctor. Her doctor measured the lumps and sent her for some x-rays and tests. When the results came back they showed a cancerous tumour on her lung that was as big as her hand. Heather had trouble believing it. She asked the doctor, "Are you sure it's not tuberculosis?" "I've never smoked a day in my life."

You see, in the restaurant where Heather worked, the air was blue with smoke; but in those days, nobody did or said anything about the smoke in her workplace. Heather said that, until then, she had no idea that second hand smoke was dangerous. People would say, 'do you mind if I smoke?' and she would reply, 'I really don't care.' It took many more weeks before they finished the tests and the specialists told her that her cancer was inoperable. They identified it was caused by second-hand cigarette smoke.

When Heather learned this, she became exceptionally angry and decided to put her anger and stress into something positive, so she looked for a way to prevent anyone else from getting sick this way. She became a famous spokesperson for the tobacco control efforts in Canada, which ultimately resulted in smoke-free laws being passed.

This story demonstrates one of the reasons it was necessary for our minister of health to enact no-smoking regulations, and why designated enclosed areas for smoking cannot be allowed. The rights of our Jamaican workers who are trying to earn an honest living have to be considered. They have a right to a safe working environment. Smokers can be accommodated in situations where the second-hand smoke does not impact workers, children or non-smokers.

Heather died on May 22, 2006. Her goal was to be the last person to die from second-hand smoke in her country. Let us support our minister of health as he tries to ensure that this will never again be the fate of a Jamaican worker.

Deborah Chen

Executive Director

Heart Foundation of Jamaica




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